The amount of traffic from Southern California on I-15 into and out of Las Vegas for the Labor Day holiday is yet another strong indicator that people are suffering from COVID-19 pandemic fatigue and ready to get on with their lives.
In a tweet Monday afternoon, the Regional Transportation Commission warned travelers to prepare for significant delays as southbound drivers were caught in a 26-mile backup on I-15 from south of Las Vegas into California. To avoid the congestion in Primm, Nevada Highway Patrol’s Southern Command suggested on Twitter that drivers take state Route 160 northbound to state Route 372 southbound and get on the I-15 in Baker, California. That route takes travelers leaving Las Vegas directly into Pahrump before turning west on 372.
The suggestion by the Nevada Highway Patrol to take an alternate route through Pahrump is a good-news/bad-news scenario. Good news if you have a business along that travel corridor that caters to travelers, not good news for residents if it means a lot more traffic through town. One possible bottleneck for travelers taking the alternate route is at the top of the mountain pass, where road construction still has the roadway one lane in each direction. The drive on 372 from Shoshone to Baker isn’t conducive to a lot of traffic either. The road is narrow, with many bends, turns, and blind spots. Drivers go too fast and try to pass when they shouldn’t.
When we see someone driving too fast, weaving around vehicles and tailgating, the refrain you will often hear from a local is “must be from California.” The NHP reinforced that belief when they were out in force Monday, ticketing motorists using the shoulder of southbound Interstate 15, leaving Las Vegas heading back to Southern California. Several officers tweeted about who was illegally using the shoulders. One tweet said, “So apparently this person’s time is more valuable than everyone else’s because he was pulled over for using the shoulder as a travel lane. Looking at the (California) plate, we can’t say we are surprised. Troopers are on the road down in Primm to prevent as much of this as we can.”
I wish it were just that easy to blame all the bad driving you see on California drivers, but we can’t. We have our share of residents that seem to drive using their own set of rules. In just the last several days, I have witnessed: a local service vehicle on Gamebird pull directly onto the 160, blowing through the stop sign. Another driver went straight through the four-way stop at Manse and Hafen Ranch without slowing at all. I was passed in a school zone when the 15 mph limit was in force. I was passed on a rural road with a 45 mph speed limit. OK, I admit it, I was doing 50 but seriously, what is so crucial that you need to drive 60 or 70 mph in a 45 zone? On the 160 in town, I was nearly sideswiped by someone attempting a lane change without looking first to see if it was safe to do so. Some residents have embraced the “California” stop. That means they come up to a stop sign, slow down, and seeing no traffic, they take off without entirely stopping. I was honked at by a car behind me for stopping for a pedestrian at a crosswalk. Yes, the pedestrian had passed my vehicle, but the law requires all vehicles to stop in both directions until the pedestrian crosswalk is completely clear. When these types of things happen, you know what you are saying to yourself, “I wish law enforcement would have seen that.” You also might be using more colorful language to describe the other person’s bad driving.
Automobiles are heavy, they go fast, and they have a lot of kinetic energy. An important fact to know is that kinetic energy increases exponentially; this means that if you double your vehicle’s speed, your vehicle’s kinetic energy increases by four times. This increase in energy also means your braking and stopping distance will be multiplied by four. A high-speed collision causes much more damage than a fender bender in a parking lot. A car moving 40 mph has four times as much kinetic energy as one driving 20 mph, while at 60 mph, a car carries nine times as much kinetic energy as at 20 mph. Thus a modest increase in speed can cause a massive increase in kinetic energy. It’s why speed limits and stop signs exist in the first place. They help avert high-energy collisions.
Traffic backups on the I-15 are a positive indicator that life is returning to the casino industry and that businesses (if allowed to be open), might have a chance to get through this. And hey, if the traffic is bumper to bumper, the drivers are saving a lot of kinetic energy.
Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org